Imagine spending every day of deer season on stand. No matter what the weather or phase of the rut, each day your only job is to get up an hour before dawn and try to outwit a mature whitetail buck. This has been my dream since I started hunting. Last year, I realized that dream. I hunted for 50 days straight on my home turf. I started the marathon hunt with a few evenings on stand during the last week of October. Even though Halloween annually yields some tremendous trophies, I took my time getting started. This was going to be an endurance match, not a sprint.
SEARCHING FOR A BIG BUCK
On November 1, I got down to business. I have 13 stands up on the farm, but three have proven to be better than the rest. I hunted all three of them during the next three days. I wanted to jump around a little and hopefully spot a nice buck that I could concentrate on.
I started the morning with Stand 1 [see map on next page]. Within 100 yards of that stand, another bowhunter and I have killed five bucks to date, averaging 174 inches. Granted, that accounts for eight years of hunting, but it is still a great record. The stand is located on a half-mile-long wooded ridge that has soybeans to the west and CRP fields on its eastern side. Does drift in from the bean field and bucks come from almost every direction looking for them.
I spent the afternoon of Nov. 1 in Stand 6. This stand also has produced some great bucks over the years. The long finger of cover draws rutting bucks like lightning to a lightning rod. During the 2001 season, I hunted a large buck here that my friend eventually shot from Stand 7. I didn’t see anything noteworthy the first day.
November 2 was a big day for my friend Jim Hill. It was his first morning on stand, and 3 1/2 hours into it he shot a 185-inch 10-pointer. It was fair payment for a lifetime of hunting hard. I spent that morning in Stand 2–a good morning stand located along a bedding ridge that bucks cruise next to during the rut. I shot a coyote at 25 yards that had stopped to dig a chipmunk out from under a log. After he went down, three big gobblers came up and started jumping on him. It occurred to me that they probably had been waiting a long time for that.
November 3 was my day. I was hunting Stand 1 again and was supposed to be back at the farmhouse by 10 a.m. to help Jim cape his buck. Normally, I wouldn’t plan to get down that early, but the rut was still young and there seemed to be plenty of time. When I started to let my bow down at 9:45, I spotted a small buck heading my way. I didn’t want to spook him so I pulled my bow back up and waited half an hour just to make sure nothing else was on the move.
Again I began lowering my bow, only to see a small buck rubbing a tree on top of the ridge. Up came the bow once more and I waited for another half an hour. I had literally just lowered the bow for the third time when I noticed the tree moving again. Again, I pulled up my bow.
I stood in shock. A big 10-pointer was walking straight toward my stand. I was glad the bow wasn’t on the ground. As the buck drew closer, I could see that his left eye was a milky color–the eye was obviously blind. He was angling down into the bowl behind my stand with his blind eye staring oddly my way. It suddenly struck me that there was no way he could possibly see me.
It was after 11 a.m. by the time I actually shot the buck. The shot was the easiest I’ve ever had. I took the afternoon off to tend to the deer but was back in action the next day using my landowner tag.
CLOSING IN ON A MONSTER EIGHT-POINTER
I really wanted to start hunting a great eight-pointer with which I had some history at Stand 8, but Larry Zach had staked him out back in October. I nicked the buck during the 2001 season with a poor shot. He was big then, and some late-summer sightings revealed that his rack had grown 15 more inches. I wanted a rematch. I bided my time waiting for Larry to fill his tag. I wouldn’t have been disappointed if Larry got the buck, but I was really starting to champ at the bit for a crack at the deer.
In the meantime, I hunted several stands, including my old favorites: 1 and 6. I also hunted Stand 5 a number of times. It is probably the best setup I’ve ever hunted. The tree is on a 30-foot bank at the edge of the creek. I use the creek to get in and out, and any wind from the south, southwest or southeast keeps deer from picking up my scent. A heavy thicket in front of the stand is a prime bedding area. I saw the tremendous eight-pointer from the stand the first time I hunted it. He was chasing does on the north side of the creek about 125 yards away.
Jim Hill missed the eight-pointer during both the 2000 and 2001 seasons in that same area. Jim had hunted that buck almost every day for two seasons–he was hunting that whitetail when he shot the big 10-pointer. During that time he had seen it only a couple of times and the two shots had been long.
The rest of the week, I hunted Stands 3, 4 and 5 almost exclusively. On two mornings I passed up bucks from Stand 3 that I normally would have shot–the thought of that big eight-pointer kept my finger off the trigger. They were both mature bucks with nice racks, but I just couldn’t bring myself to end the season with a month left.
On November 11 Larry finally tagged out with a mature buck. That opened up the spot where I had nicked the eight-pointer the year before. I descended like a vulture. I spent a solid week hunting that deer. Larry hadn’t seen the buck since November 1, but I kept thinking that I was the one who was supposed to get him, and I would if I just put in enough time. I put in the time, alright. A couple of days I stayed in Stand 8 from dawn ’til dark. Those were long days.
On November 15, I set up Stand 9 so I could hunt the buck on a south or southwest wind. A deep bowl to the north of the stand would assure that any deer downwind of my tree would also be well below my scent stream. I was in Stand 8 or 9 or in Larry’s ground blind (Stand 10) nearly every day. I never saw any sign of the big eight-pointer. Larry had already spent 12 days hunting the ridge, and I was sure the deer were starting to get wary of people.
AN INVENTIVE PLAN
I went back to old reliable Stand 6 on the morning of November 20. I’m glad I did. Midway through the morning a doe followed by a massive 10-pointer popped out on the south end of the field just to the east of the stand. They crossed at a fast walk–east to west–about 125 yards away. Though I grunted at the buck, the 10-pointer only paused to look my way. The doe was obviously in estrus.
I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Even before they disappeared up the draw west of the field, I knew how I could get him. I climbed down to get started.
My plan was radical. Swirling winds wouldn’t permit me to stand-hunt in the draw where they had disappeared, so I brought in a portable ground blind that I had altered to seal off all the windows, making it essentially scent-proof. I snuck it in (Stand 13) and cleared some shooting lanes.
When hunting from the ground, visibility is always a problem. I feared the deer would be in and through my shooting lane before I could react, so I opened the zipper on the top of the blind, donned two charcoal head nets, stuck my head out and then zipped the blind tightly back around my neck. What a sight that must have been–a ground blind with a head! I stood like that all afternoon and all of the next day. The vision of that buck was enough for me to endure the discomfort. A few deer passed close by without noticing me, which was really quite a strange feeling. Others saw or smelled me and moved off nervously. None of them was the big buck.
I hunted Stand 7 the next morning, thinking that the deer might be using the ridge it was on as a bedding area. I saw very little that morning and started to get the feeling that the buck was a one-shot wonder, just like nearly every other mature buck I have known. On November 24, I gave up on the big deer when one of the other people hunting the farm started putting up stands where I had seen the massive buck.
I spent the afternoons from November 24 to 26 in a ground blind at Stand 12 and the mornings in Stands 8 and 9, looking for the big eight-pointer. The field near Stand 12 had been planted with BioLogic and the deer were hitting it hard. I was hoping to get a shot at one of the two bucks I had passed up from Stand 3. I saw one of them twice, but he never came close enough for a shot. My best opportunity to fill my remaining tag came the morning of November 26. I was sitting in a stand up on the ridge near Stands 8 and 9 when dawn revealed a very large dark object following a much smaller one in the draw near Stand 11. Through my binocular the shapes materialized into a doe and a big 10-pointer with a sticker point. I had seen the buck back in 2001 near Stand 1. He was big then, but now he probably scored over 170 gross inches.
I watched for two hours while the doe led the buck around a small area. Finally, there were no other deer in the open field near my stand so I climbed down to stalk closer. I’ve learned that when you see a big buck you have to do everything possible to get him right then and there.
Using the wind and the terrain, I was able to sneak within 75 yards of the buck. I found him bedded at the bottom of the draw. I didn’t know where the doe was or I would have tried to work into bow range. Instead, I decided to wait for them to stand. They would likely mill around and offer a shot when they stood. That’s when I remembered the time. My family was visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday and I promised my wife I’d be home by 10 a.m. It was 10:15.
I had no choice but to back out of the best setup I had been in since November 3. After I had spent two hours at home, everyone urged me to go back and give the buck another try. But by the time I got there, the buck was gone.
The rest of the season, from November 27 to December 6, turned out to be anti-climactic. As the rut tapered off, the mature bucks vanished. It was like a completely different farm. When I added up the sightings, I realized that I saw three of the monster bucks just once and the fourth one (the elusive eight-pointer) I never even saw. I ended up shooting a buck I wasn’t even hunting. Even when you have 50 days, mature bucks still have the upper hand.